“As a global week of action demands justice for Mike Brown, young people from Ferguson, MO and their activist allies detail what #handsup means to them.”
Category: Visual Art
Wherever there is injustice and protest, you will also find art. That’s the case with respect to the killing of Mike Brown and the Ferguson protests.
Below are a few samples of art that I have seen in various media platforms.
Jasiri X wrote a song called 212 degrees about the events in Ferguson.
Black bodies being fed to the system
Black American dead or in prison
Love for the murderer never the victim
Dead kids cant beg your forgiveness
We are at war
What you telling me to be peaceful for
When they break the peace by firing the piece now the peace gets tore
I don’t give a fuck about Quik Trip’s store
I saw the illustration below on Twitter. It’s by Sandra Khalifa. I’ve begun to curate other visual art related to the events in Ferguson here.
A few singers/rappers have produced music about Mike Brown and/or the Ferguson protests. Here are some of those:
It’s been a long and exhausting week so far. I haven’t gotten home before 9 p.m for three days straight. There’s a lot happening. I am excited that the “No Selves to Defend: Criminalizing Women of Color for Self Defense” exhibition opens at Art in these Times tomorrow evening.
I spent Tuesday evening into the night with my friends Rachel, Billy, and Ash putting the finishing touches on the exhibition. I am very proud of what we’ve created. The “No Selves to Defend” exhibition is an outgrowth of the anthology by the same name.
Both projects were inspired by Marissa Alexander. More specifically, they are inspired by her consistent and constant admonition to also focus on the cases of other women who have been and are currently criminalized for invoking self-defense against violence. As I thought about her desire to lift up other women’s stories, the idea to create a document that would highlight other cases was born. The exhibition is simply an extension of this idea.
A lot of people are responsible for making both the anthology and exhibition a reality. I look forward to the opportunity to thank them all at Friday’s opening.
For those who visit the “No Selves” exhibition, you’ll see that it opens with the story of Celia.
On June 23 1855, after enduring five years of sexual violence, Celia, a 19 year old Missouri enslaved woman killed her master, Robert Newsom. Newsom was a 60 year old widower who purchased Celia when she was 14. On the day of her purchase, he raped her on the way to his farm.
By the time she killed Newsom, Celia already had two of his children and was pregnant with a third. She had started a relationship with one of Newson’s male slaves named George who became her lover. George insisted that she end her sexual liaison with Newsom if they were going to continue in their relationship.
Celia approached his daughters and implored them to ask their father to end the sexual assaults. No one could or would protect her and so she confronted Newsom herself when he came to force yet another sexual encounter. She clubbed him to death and then burned his body in her fireplace.
Her court-appointed defense lawyers suggested that a Missouri law permitting a woman to use deadly force to defend herself against sexual advances extended to slave as well as to free women. In spite of this vigorous defense, the court disagreed with the argument and Celia was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging.
After an appeal of the case failed, Celia was hanged on December 21, 1855.
Reading Celia’s story many years ago, I began to crystallize my thoughts about the fact that women of color (black women in particular) have never had “selves” to defend. It is fitting then that Celia would introduce the exhibition.
I asked my friend the supremely talented artist Bianca Diaz to create a visual interpretation of Celia for the exhibition. Since there are no photographs of Celia, Bianca had to rely on her imagination. Below is what she created which will be on display. It is haunting and beautiful.
So, if you find yourself in town tomorrow at 6 pm, you are invited to the opening of the ‘No Selves to Defend’ exhibition. It will run until mid September at Art in these Times located on the second floor of 2040 N Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL 60647. The gallery is unfortunately not wheelchair accessible. Looking forward to seeing some of you on Friday!
This is the last story from the “No Selves To Defend” anthology that I will be posting here. This one focuses on the case of Cassandra Peten. Her portrait was created by Molly Crabapple and the essay is by me.
By Prison Culture
In April 1978, Cassandra Peten, a young mother and shipyard worker in San Francisco, left her abusive husband after nearly three years of marriage. During that time, she had been emotionally and physically assaulted. Peten had escaped her husband twice before; she left the third time, after he threatened to kill her.
She left her young son in her mother’s care and fled the state in search of employment. Peten had been working up to 70 hours a week while also studying to become a court reporter before being forced to flee.
On May 2nd, she returned to San Francisco to sign a $1500 income tax refund check, agreeing to split the money with her husband. At the bank, her husband only gave her $95 instead of the $750 that she was expecting. They argued, her husband raised his fist intending to hit her and she shot him, slightly wounding him in the leg.
Peten was charged with assault with intent to commit murder, assault with intent to do great bodily harm and illegal use of a firearm. A Cassandra Peten Defense Committee was established to support her and it estimated legal costs “of as much as $10,000.” Demonstrations and fundraisers were organized in Peten’s support, led by organizations like the National Association of Black Feminists (NABF). One of the slogans was “Clear Cassandra Peten! Defend The Right of Women to Protect Themselves from Physical Abuse.” A flyer advertising a benefit dinner for Peten explained her plight:
“Cassandra Peten, trying to make her marriage work, took her husband’s mental and physical abuse. Then, in just one incident, human instinct made her stand up for herself. Cassandra is now charged with attempted murder and a number of other charges, all in connection with that one incident, in which she shot and injured her husband. For her normal human response to an intolerable
situation, Cassandra is now facing seven to ten years in prison.”
In 1979, she was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. The judge suggested that Peten was a danger to herself and the community. He revoked her bail, and sent her to the California Institute for Women for a 60 to 90 day ‘observation’ period pending sentencing. She faced up to 10 years in prison.
Surprisingly, after her ‘observation’ period, the judge sentenced Peten to the time that she had served and released her on parole. This was considered a major victory for Cassandra, her Defense Committee, and battered women.
An entry in the radical feminist publication “No More Cages” put it this way:
“Cassandra’s victory should be celebrated. But the other thousands of women who are victimized by their husbands must not be forgotten. Total victory will come only when no woman has to live in fear of physical and emotional brutality.”
For the rest of this week, I will feature some of the stories in the new anthology ‘No Selves to Defend.’ I hope that you will buy a copy of the publication as all proceeds will support Marissa Alexander’s legal defense.
We kick off with Joan Little’s case. This short essay was written by Dr. Emily Thuma and the art is by the supremely gifted Micah Bazant.
On August 27, 1974 in Beaufort County, North Carolina, a twenty-year-old Black woman prisoner named Joan Little defended herself from sexual violence at the hands of a white male guard. Little gained control of an ice pick the guard had used to threatened her while she was in her cell, and she used the tool as a weapon to wound him. She then fled the jail. The guard did not survive his stab wounds and Little quickly became the target of a statewide search. One week later, Little surrendered and declared to state authorities and the press that she had acted in self-defense. An all-white grand jury charged her with first-degree murder, which carried the possibility of the death penalty, and she was sent to the women’s prison in Raleigh to await trial.
In the following year, a broad base of individuals and organizations from around the country participated in the mass mobilization that became known as the “Free Joan Little Movement.” From Oakland to Detroit to Atlanta, people formed local committees that helped the North Carolina-based Joan Little Defense Fund raise money to pay for Little’s bond (set at $115,000) and legal fees. Many widely known racial and economic justice and feminist organizations threw their support behind Little as well, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Panther Party, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, and the National Organization for Women. The renowned a cappella group Sweet Honey and the Rock released a song entitled, “Joanne Little: She’s My Sister.” While out on bail before her trial, Little traveled the country and spoke to numerous audiences about her case as well as unjust prison conditions more generally.
With the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights and others, the legal defense team produced documentation that persuaded the court that Little could not receive a fair trial in Beaufort County and it won a venue change to Raleigh. The five-week trial began in July. During the trial, the defense called several Black women to the stand to testify about their own experiences of sexual harassment by white male staff at the Beaufort County jail, demonstrating a chronic pattern of abuse. The jury, made up of both Black and white jurors, deliberated for only seventy-eight minutes before acquitting Little.
While State v. Joan Little is noted for being the first time a woman was acquitted of murder on the grounds of self-defense against sexual violence, its wider impact and legacy was its powerful reflection of the interconnections of racism, sexism, and economic inequality. As scholar, activist, and former political prisoner Angela Y. Davis wrote in Ms. magazine in June 1975, “Those of us—women and men—who are Black or people of color must understand the connection between racism and sexism that is so strikingly manifested in her case. Those of us who are White and women must grasp the issue of male supremacy in relationship to the racism and class bias which complicate and exacerbate it.”
Colors of Confinement: Rare Kodachrome Photographs of Japanese American Incarceration in World War II
In light of the passing of the great Yuri Kochiyama, it seems important to revisit the horror of Japanese Internment. Colors of Confinement is going into its second printing and offers a visual document of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“In 1942, Bill Manbo and his family were forced from their Hollywood home into the Japanese American internment camp at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. While there, Manbo documented both the bleakness and beauty of his surroundings using Kodachrome film—a technology then just seven years old—to capture community celebrations and to record his family’s struggle to maintain a normal life under the harsh conditions of racial imprisonment. Colors of Confinement showcases sixty-five stunning images from this extremely rare collection of color photographs, presented along with three interpretive essays by leading scholars and a reflective, personal essay by a former Heart Mountain internee.
The subjects of these haunting photos are the routine fare of an amateur photographer: parades, cultural events, people at play, Manbo’s son. But the images are set against the backdrop of the barbed-wire enclosure surrounding the Heart Mountain Relocation Center and the dramatic expanse of Wyoming sky and landscape. The accompanying essays illuminate these scenes as they trace a tumultuous history unfolding just beyond the camera’s lens, giving readers insight into Japanese American cultural life and the stark realities of life in the camps.
Colors of Confinement is in its second printing and is also available in Japanese translation. Muller gave a talk at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2013, which can be viewed online.”